Here at The International Kitchen we are obviously focussed on the culinary side of our destinations, but that does not mean we ignore the cultural side on our wonderful vacation packages. We are all history buffs with plenty of education and experience exploring world history and culture. So it should not surprise you that one of our favorite things about our new Lisbon and the Algarve culinary tour is the rich history of Portugal during the Age of Discovery.
The First Discoveries
The “Era dos Descrobrimentos,” or Age of Discoveries, refers to the historical period of maritime exploration by Portuguese explorers to Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East during the 15th and 16th centuries. The first Portuguese explorer of this era, and the “Father of the Age of Discoveries,” was Henry the Navigator, who sailed in the first half of the 15th century. Other notable explorers were Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral, Ferdinand Magellan, Afonso de Albuquerque, and Fernão Mendes Pinto, among others.
Portugal’s first forays into maritime exploration included islands such as Ceuta, Madeira, and the Azores, and then moved into Africa, when it became an important part of the burgeoning slave trade. The history of this tragic period is memorialized in the Slave Market Museum in Lagos. Many of the slaves brought to Lagos remained in Portugal (it is estimated that at one time the Algarve’s slaves made up ten percent of its population), while others were shipped to other European countries and eventually to the Americas.
Portugal and the Americas
Portugal’s position as the western-most nation with major harbors (in Porto, Lisbon, Sagres, and Lagos) and navigable rivers made it particularly important in the exploration, trade, and colonization of the Americas.
In fact, colonization of the so-called New World fed a steady supply of wealth into Portugal so that it became one of the richest nations during this period. As part of the “Columbian exchange,” it was where many of the expeditions landed, where ships were unloaded, where new flora, fauna, and crafts were first introduced to Europe. The consequences of this exchange yielded not only riches for Portugal, but also infamous results: colonization, imperialism, genocide, the spread of slavery.
Although Lagos was a popular starting point for expeditions in the 15th century, by the 16th century more explorers started from Lisbon. Still, Prince Henry the Navigator, it is said (but not universally accepted), started a nautical school in Sagres in the early 15th century, thereby keeping the Algarve at the center of Portuguese navigation.
In summary, there is no shortage of historical and cultural sites to explore in Lisbon and the Algarve, including during its formative period during the Age of Discovery.
By Peg Kern
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